Irish conscripts and volunteers faced tough choices in World War I. Nationalist resentment of British rule burst into the open during the 1916 Easter Uprising, which the British Army crushed.
Soldiers came from all over the country and signed up for a host of different reasons. Some enlisted to escape grinding poverty. Others went to maintain family honour. Still others believed they were defending freedom and democracy from autocratic German oppression.
For loyalists, in particular, these soldiers were heroes. For many Irish nationalists, however, the stories of these soldiers were often forgotten or ignored when they returned.
During the war, the choices they made split families. Often, children took choices against their parent’s wishes. The legacy of these choices remain alive today.
After the war, the British Commander in Ypres, Sir John French, became the Governor General of Ireland. He ordered a record be made of the Irish casualties. The Committee of the Irish National War Memorial recorded the 49,000 names and published it in 1923. French donated a copy of the eight leather bound volumes to the city of Ypres, where it is on permanent display in a made to measure cabinet in our museum.
The 49,000 names are listed in alphabetical order. Their birthdate and home address is given, as is the time and place of their death.
It’s a ghastly casualty rate. In four short years, the Irish were cut down in their prime on mainly French and Belgian battlefields.
The average Irish person today is far more likely to have a relative among the thousands of Irish dead of the Great War than among those of the War of Independence and Civil War.
In 2003, In Flanders Field Museum launched a large project called The List of Names to correct and complete the original list of war dead. It is time-consuming work. We aim to publish a list of all the estimated 600,000 soldiers and 5,000 civilians of all nationalities who died in Belgium during the World War I.
The Irish memorial list is part of this larger List of Names work.
During our research, we discovered that the records for Irish casualties of the First World War were neither fully correct nor complete. Some 35,000 records simply list France as place of death.
This is a mistake. Our research shows than 11,060 listed as falling in France were instead killed, commemorated or buried in Belgium.
We also corrected birthplaces. Of the almost 50,000 names, some 30,000 are born in Ireland, 9,000 in England, 1,500 in Scotland, and the rest in third countries. For 7,400, though, no place of birth is given. Many of these omissions now have been corrected.
Look on the left and you will see just how illuminating this work is, just for the family name of Redmond.
Patrick Redmond is listed as dying in Gallipoli. His accurate place of death was Ypres. Philip Redmond is listed as killed in action in France. In reality, he died in Ypres.
The changes continue. For Thomas Redmond, we added his gravesite in the Flenu Communal Cemetery.
Gaps remain. We still have no correct records for many soldiers. Filling in these holes will require years of additional work.
Until early 2014, these records were published in a mere 100 copies. In Flanders Fields Museum had worked with the Irish genealogical history and heritage company Eneclann and Google to build a new Irish memorial website, bringing a list of Irish war dead available online and making it searchable with a simple tool available at http://imr.inflandersfields.be
We're delighted that Ireland’s then Tánaiste and Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Eamon Gilmore T.D., launched the new website with Northern Ireland First Minister Peter Robinson and deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness at Google Dublin headquarters.
“While the digitisation and online access to this record will be a rich resource for genealogy, most significant is its value in facilitating the simple and important act of remembering the individuals, Irish men and women, who lost their lives in the First World War,” Tánaiste Gilmore said.
“My presence is a clear indication of the maturity in confronting history on this island. For many years, this as something that people were not prepared to talk about, to face up to, to acknowledge,” said deputy First Minister Martin McGuinness.
First Minister Peter Robinson said: “As we enter an important decade of commemorations in both our countries, it is my hope that what has been established here today will keep alive the history and the stories of those who did not return from war.”
“This online commemoration allows people from all over the world to connect with a shared past,” Piet Chielens, Co-ordinator, In Flanders Fields Museum.
We will continue our work - together. If you have information about a relative who perished in World War I, please send it to our research centre.
The address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
Created by — Piet Chielens, Curator, In Flanders Fields Museum